Sculpture by Carpeaux, Dalou and Carriès at The Petit Palais


During the nineteenth century beginning with the art of David d’Angers and François Rude, in particular, and continuing through the work of Rodin a small number of independent-minded sculptors in France who were committed to an art of their own time - i.e. “modernity” à la Baudelaire - defied the restrictive neo-Classical tenets of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Academic art required the idealization of the human figure based on antique canons and the depiction of allegorical, religious, or heroic-historical subjects. Realism became the primary means by which progressive artists broke away from academic controls over the style, material and purpose of sculpture. Ironically, the path of realism in the nineteenth century also opened the way for the early twentieth-century, non-representational ruptures in Western aesthetics by artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Brancusi. The Petit Palais’ principal exhibition hall for nineteenth-century painting and sculpture is, in fact, primarily dedicated to the development of realism in the second half of the century from Gustave Courbet’s 1851 monumental unfinished painting Pompiers courant à un incendie to the over-life-size plaster Le Grand Paysan (1897-1903) by Jules Dalou and highlighted with the 1888 triptych by Ferdinand Pelez’s (1848-1913) Grimaces et Misère : Les Saltimbanques, a totally-absorbing masterpiece of psychological realism. The “hot spot” of the display, however, is the calculated curatorial placement on the floor of Jean-Baptiste Clesinger’s (1814-1883) deliciously erotic 1848 marble Bacchante across from Courbet’s nearly pornographic painting Le Sommeil (1866) depicting two entwined sleeping lesbians. The relationship within the hall of these two daring works creates a “before and after” scenario of climatic orgiastic experiences with Clesinger’s marble depicting the writhing, horizontal nude figure of his celebrity mistress, Apollinie Sabatier, juxtaposed to Courbet’s painting of sexually exhausted women.

1. Jean Carriès (1855-1894)
Large Toad and Faun, ca. 1890-1894
Stoneware
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais
© Musée du Petit Palais

Three sculptors who played major roles in the development of realism in the second half of the nineteenth-century are Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875), Jules Dalou (1838-1902) and Jean Carriès (1855-1894). At the Musée d’Orsay one may appreciate the art of Carpeaux by studying his early, large bronze of Ugolino, as well as many examples of plaster and bronze portraits, terracotta sketches for larger works and especially the plaster models for the artist’s major public sculptures : The Allegory of The Dance and The Fountain of the Four Continents. Indeed, as unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of nineteenth-century French art (ca.1830-1914), the Musée d’Orsay represents well among its extensive national holdings the sculptural achievements by these three artists. However, across the Seine from the Quay d’Orsay within the eclectic make up of the collection of the Petit Palais, the sculptures of Carpeaux, Dalou and Carriès reign supreme1. In addition to its large collection of Carpeauxs donated by the artist’s daughter in 1938 (182 sculptures, paintings and drawings among which are 114 plasters, bronzes and terra cottas and the original plaster for Ugolino), the Petit Palais has the largest and richest holdings of sculpture by Dalou (300 sculptures in plaster, terra cotta, wax (3), and bronze mostly acquired in 1905 from the artist’s estate to support his mentally handicapped daughter, Georgette) and Carriès (269 ceramics and sculptures in plaster, wax (5), and enameled stoneware mostly donated in 1904 by Georges Hoentschel, the executor of the artist’s estate). It is with these riches that the Petit Palais is able to complement well the all-in-compassing historical function of the Musée d’Orsay. Just as the great monographic collection of the Musée Rodin with its large variety of studies and media amplifies the wonderful presentation of Rodin’s sculpture at the Musée d’Orsay, the Petit Palais has the unique opportunity with its in-depth holdings of Dalou and Carriès, as well as with its strength in the work of Carpeaux, to present to the public insightful explorations into major concerns in French art during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It is rare, indeed, for a museum to have the ability to explore so deeply into the creative process of one important artist, and even more unusual to have that opportunity with the art of two major artists – in this case, Dalou and Carriès – who worked partly within the same time period.

Of the three artists, Carpeaux is the best known today and was the most influential sculptor outside of Rodin in the second half of the nineteenth century. During his career (1859-1875) which spanned the last decade of the Second Empire and the first five years of the Third Republic, he imbued a feeling of life within his sculptural material. From his emotionally-charged Michelangelesque Ugolino (1859), to his exuberant and sexually daring Allegory of The Dance (1868) for the Garnier Opéra and continuing through his dynamic presentation of the Fountain of the Four Continents (l867-72) (especially with the bust portrait renditions of The Slave and The Chinese), one feels through the artist’s expressive manipulation of clay that blood flows through his subjects’ veins. The naked subjects of Carpeaux’s Allegory of The Dance display such an inebriated delight for life and unabashed sensuality that in 1869, on the eve of the fall of the Second Empire, they were almost replaced by more modest imagery. Dance introduced a new type of robust realism predicated on recognized Old Masters, in particular Peter Paul Rubens and Paolo Veronese. It informed other nineteenth-century portrayals of women including the earthy allegorical nudes featured in Dalou’s Triumphe of the Republic vividly express in the plaster maquette at the Petit Palais. Carpeaux also emphasized the validity of the esquisse, and of the textural, tactile abstract qualities of his medium which while forming a frank likenesses of his models also at times allows a flickering of light and shadow à la Impressionism over the surface, endowing his sculpture with a spontaneity which becomes emblematic of the realist and abstract concerns of sculptors from Rodin to Matisse.

2. Jules Dalou (1838-1902)
Three versions of Seated Woman, ca. 1870
Terracotta and Plaster
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais
© Musée du Petit Palais

Carpeaux played an important role in Dalou’s career, having persuaded the latter’s parents to allow him to attend the Petite Ecole and later serving as Dalou’s teacher. By 1870, under the influence of Carpeaux and after evolving away from academic depictions of nude bathers, Dalou was creating marble sculptures on naturalist domestic themes devoid of allegorical intent : embroidery, reading, breastfeeding a baby. After the fall of the Paris Commune, Dalou spent the 1870s in exile in London where he produced, among other works a series of un-idealized, contemporary female bathers in various poses drying themselves or pulling on stockings which predate those of Degas. As Amélie Simier, the Petit Palais’ curator of sculpture, has discussed in her recent article her museum possesses an extraordinary group of these bathers in patinated plaster and terracotta in which the artist explored the subtle changes in musculature and in the folds of flesh as the position of the seated nude was slightly altered2. Rather than imposing an idealized canon of human proportions, Dalou sought to express in clay the workings of the body in motion, its structure and stresses, as seen in his studies at the Petit Palais for Fraternity of 1882-83.

3. Jules Dalou (1838-1902)
Selection of studies for The Monument to Workers,
ca. 1890-1895
Terracotta
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais
© Musée du Petit Palais

As a member of the Paris Commune and a dedicated socialist/republican/democrat, Dalou had great sympathy for the working class. Like Rodin, Carriès, and Alexandre Charpentier, Dalou envisioned himself first as an artisan – a laborer - and, then, as an artist. This humanistic approach is apparent as early as 1879 in his design for Triumphe of the Republic with the prominent inclusion of a Worker and becomes Dalou’s obsession during the last two decades of the century as he commits himself to designing a Monument to Workers which, however, like Rodin’s Monument to Workers was never realized. The Paris City Council was so enamored with Dalou’s plaster model for Triumphe of the Republic that in 1880 it commissioned the artist to transform it into a ten-meter-high bronze monument which was eventually installed in 1899 in the Place de la Nation (the old Place du Trône). The sculpture’s inauguration was in conjunction with the Fête du Triomphe organized by the Third Republic ; the Fête was an event that was designed to link the longstanding republican ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity with those of Work, Justice and Prosperity, and involved the participation of the nation’s labor unions. The Petit Palais’s original plaster for Dalou’s The Large Peasant (1897-1903), his plaster maquette for his Monument to Workers, as well as the many freely executed small clay studies of workers for this same monument attest to the artist’s great social concerns and his commitment to a humanistic realism to express universal ideals.

4. Jean Carriès (1855-1894)
Detail of grotesque element for
La Porte de Parsifal
Stoneware
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais
© Musée du Petit Palais

Of the three artists under consideration, the work of Carriès is by far the most unusual and innovative. Carriès first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1875. His Velasquez and Hals inspired sculptural portraits became progressively recognized by critics in the early 1880s. At the Salon of 1881 in addition to the dramatic historical head of Charles I decapitated, the artist displayed examples of his Les Déshérités, a series of realist plaster busts in varied painted patinas depicting impoverished, marginal types. This series was complemented during the decade by his idiosyncratic, realist busts in plaster, wax and eventually bronze of family members, religious types and of awkward, strange babies. But his greatest contribution to fin-de-siècle art was his work in the medium of enameled stoneware which culminated in his extraordinary La Porte de Parsifal (1890-94) commissioned by the wealthy American Winnaretta Singer to be a monumental entrance for the room in her new Parisian home designed to house the original manuscript of the Richard Wagner opera (Although, it is possible that she ultimately never acquired the manuscript). Carriès’s interest in enameled stoneware and ceramics originated at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle, where he saw examples of Japanese works in the medium. It was fostered through his acquaintance with Gauguin, to whom he was introduced sometime during the winter of 1886-87 by Ernest Chaplet at the latter’s ceramic studio on the rue Blomet. By the fall of 1888, Carriès had gained a degree of financial independence that permitted him to essentially devote himself to perfecting the complicated firing process of ceramic stoneware - “this male of porcelain” as he referred to it. The artist established a studio in Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, an area southeast of Paris famous for its clay and artisan potters. Firmly committing himself to the role of artist as artisan, Carriès developed enamel glazes in subtle variations of brown, beige, and cream. Beginning in 1888-89, he applied these color effects to stoneware versions of many of his earlier realist portraits as well as to a growing repertoire of fantastic and grotesque masks, self-portraits, and animals inspired by Gothic sculpture and Japanese art. It was through the latter two influences that Carriès’s extreme realism led to distortion, caricature and finally to the grotesque — all of which prepared the way for the disfigurement of sculpture by artists in the early twentieth century.

5. Jean Carriès (1855-1894)
Detail of display of elements for
La Porte de Parsifal, 1890-1894
Stoneware
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais
© Musée du Petit Palais

Like Rodin’s La Porte de l’Enfer, Carriès La Porte de Parsifal, which, in fact, is a bit larger than that of Rodin’s opus, represented the single greatest artistic challenge of its creator’s career and was never completed. Carriès spent the last four years of his life working on the project, but the technical demands of casting, glazing, and connecting its six hundred individual pieces proved too overwhelming. For more than thirty years the original full-size plaster model of La Porte de Parsifal was on display at the Petit Palais at the entrance of a room dedicated to the work of Carriès. Unfortunately, in the late 1930s because of an unimaginative, short-sighted and devastating curatorial decision the model was destroyed and the Carriès room dismantled. It was only in 1997 with the extensive exhibition and publication organized by the Galerie Patrice Bellanger that Carriès’s art and reputation were rehabilitated. The reopening of the Petit Palais brought with it a gallery dedicated to Carriès’s sculpture which includes the half-size plaster model of La Porte de Parsifal, the wax self-portrait of the artist and many renditions of his fantastic and grotesque animals and masks. Yet, what is on display is only the tip of the iceberg ; the visitor’s appetite is whetted, and one is eager to see much more art by this amazing artist. There is, in fact, great potential and flexibility to the galleries of the Petit Palais which surely will benefit even more the rich collections of this wonderful 1900 museum. As for Dalou and Carri è s, each artist deserves a retrospective exhibition with a new definitive catalogue documenting their extraordinary accomplishments and their significant roles within the history of fin-de-siècle art.

Phillip Dennis Cate, Director Emeritus, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.


Phillipe Dennis Cate, mercredi 12 septembre 2007



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